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Is It Time for Your Watch to Get Smarter?

Smart watches could be the next big thing in the consumer electronics market, with some predictions estimating that 5 million watches will ship in 2014, but they need to get smarter to really take off. So far we've seen smartphone accessories, with standard features including Bluetooth connectivity, a remote music player, apps like Facebook and Twitter, GPS capabilities, and, of course, a clock, but can these watches become smart machines?

Technology research firm Gartner considers a device a smart machine if it does things we thought only humans could do and has the ability to understand natural language, interact with humans, and learn.

Devices like the smartwatch, smartphone, and wearables like Google Glass currently act as digital assistants, but they could become smart machines if they interact better with humans and learn to anticipate our needs, Gartner reports.

“I think there will be lots of innovation around smart watches and other wearables, but even something like Google Glass will only be a smart machine if it has learning capability,” said Kenneth Brant, research director at Gartner. “We expect digital assistants will become smarter through 2020, and many more will be smart machines with greater natural language capability and greater learning capability.”

Some of the major smartphone players have already released smartwatches that serve as a second screen to receive notifications and use specific apps without having to use a phone. So far, most of the watches are compatible with Android devices only.

Sony was ahead of the game, releasing its $149.99 SmartWatch in early 2012, and it now offers the SW2 (SmartWatch 2). The SW2 has added NFC (Near Field Communication) pairing and the ability to act as a remote for your smartphone camera.

Samsung recently joined the market with its $299 Galaxy Gear, which seems to be most publicized smartwatch to date. Galaxy Gear offers a large Amoled screen, single-core 800 MHz Exynos processor, and a camera in the wristband, which sets it apart from previous smart watches. You can also view photos, find your phone, use Samsung's S Voice, and make hands-free calls (as seen in the ad below).

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The company recently announced that Galaxy Gear sales have exceeded even internal expectations, which is good news for the market.

Even though Qualcomm is a name usually found on the inside of a smartphone, not the outside, it has released its own Toq Smartwatch for $349.99. The company is taking the opportunity to showcase its technology to attract companies to build a watch based on its design.

Featuring touch buttons in the wristband that also houses the battery, the Toq incorporates Qualcomm's AllJoyn messaging protocol, WiPower LE wireless charging, and Mirasol display. Users can receive messages and send canned responses set up in the connected phone, charge the device by setting it on the wireless charger, and listen to music with a Bluetooth-connected wireless stereo headset (available next year). The reflective MEMS-based display is a low-power solution that uses interferometric modulation (IMOD) technology. It is always on and uses ambient light, so it's easy to see and doesn't need to be woken up to check the time.

Offering a second screen for your smartphone isn't the only kind of smart watch out there. Some are designed specifically for working out, like the Adidas miCoach Smart Run. The Android-powered watch features a wireless music player (to be used with Bluetooth headphones), training and coaching apps, a GPS chip with Bluetooth and WiFi, an optical heart-rate monitor, an accelerometer, and a TI OMAP4430 processor. Nissan has also announced a smart watch that connects car and driver by displaying vehicle performance analysis, the driver's vital signs, and their social media presence. The watch, intended for racing, is still in development.

While there are many other designs and products out there, the immediate question about the smart watch market is whether the rumors are true that industry giants like Google, Microsoft, and Apple are working on such devices. Involving more operating systems and search technologies like Siri and Google Now in a smart watch could enable users to get information even faster and make devices smarter.

“The question is can it learn about your habits and continue to learn about the types of questions you're asking it,” said Gartner's Brant. “If as you ask questions of it, the machine has the ability to learn, a smartphone or a smart watch will truly be a smart machine.”

Will smartwatches be game-changing devices that can do even more than Dick Tracy would have imagined? Maybe not this year, but they've arrived, and the potential to wear a smart machine on your wrist is there.

“Digital assistants are doing things we didn't think machines could do years ago,” said Brant. “I don't think it's a question of can it be done, but when will it be done.”

This article orignally appeared in EBN's sister publication EDN as part of the Hot Technologies: Looking ahead to 2014 feature, where EDN editors examine some of the hot trends and technologies in 2013 that promise to shape technology news in 2014 and beyond.

22 comments on “Is It Time for Your Watch to Get Smarter?

  1. prabhakar_deosthali
    December 18, 2013

    In my opinion, a wrist watch as a smart device is a wrong choice.

    The reasons are

    1. Its display cannot be made larger as it has to be accommodated on the wrist.

    2. For looking at the wrist watch a person's attention is totally distracted for that moment. This is especially dangerous for those driving their vehicles.

    3. It's battery size and hence capacity will also be limited , requiring frequent recharging.

    4. A smart wearable watch will have to depend upon the smart phone or a werable display device for its display.

     

    Smart watch may find applications like health monitoring of the person wearing it, or performance monitoring of a sports person while he is participating ( racing, badminton, tennis and all sort of field games)

     

  2. ITempire
    December 18, 2013

    Jessica, I believe smart watches have a lot of potential but there are few reservations that people might have. Firstly, a large screen might not fit well on your wrist and even if it does, you will have to detach the watch from your wrist else it is difficult to imagine the usage. Secondly, the weight of the smart watch. Will it be light enough ? 

  3. ITempire
    December 18, 2013

    Prabharkar, I completely agree with your points but time will tell whether users will adopt them or not. I can't say for sure but my guess is that it won't be able to sideline the smartphones.

  4. Daniel
    December 18, 2013

    “Technology research firm Gartner considers a device a smart machine if it does things we thought only humans could do and has the ability to understand natural language, interact with humans, and learn. Devices like the smartwatch, smartphone, and wearables like Google Glass currently act as digital assistants, but they could become smart machines if they interact better with humans and learn to anticipate our needs”

    Jesicca, there are some controversy in market about 'what is a smart device and how a device can be smart'. According to Gartner Smartphones is only digital assistance; then what is a Smartphone? For marketing, most of the manufactures/sellers are adding the word 'SMART' in front of all devices. I think still proper meaning & functionality for the word Smart to be well defined.

  5. Daniel
    December 18, 2013

    “Smart watch may find applications like health monitoring of the person wearing it, or performance monitoring of a sports person while he is participating ( racing, badminton, tennis and all sort of field games)”

    Prabhakar, wrist watch is meant for knowing the tie and it's difficult to build more functionality to it. Quiet sometimes back LG had tries to embed mobile phone over wrist watch and it's an utter flop. Recently Samsung also tried with Samsung Gear, but not success as expected. Some other medical companies tried to embed BP & Diabetic (sugar) monitor mechanism through wrist watch and it also seems flop. So other than something related to time (stop watch, timer etc) may be difficult with wrist watch.

  6. FLYINGSCOT
    December 19, 2013

    I reckon smart watches wil not really tak eoff until they are much nicer looking (less clumsy) and less power hungry.  It is a real pain having to charge your watch every day and even worse when the display is so small to be renderred almost useless.

  7. FLYINGSCOT
    December 19, 2013

    I reckon smart watches wil not really tak eoff until they are much nicer looking (less clumsy) and less power hungry.  It is a real pain having to charge your watch every day and even worse when the display is so small to be renderred almost useless.

  8. FLYINGSCOT
    December 19, 2013

    I reckon smart watches wil not really tak eoff until they are much nicer looking (less clumsy) and less power hungry.  It is a real pain having to charge your watch every day and even worse when the display is so small to be renderred almost useless.

  9. FLYINGSCOT
    December 19, 2013

    I reckon smart watches wil not really tak eoff until they are much nicer looking (less clumsy) and less power hungry.  It is a real pain having to charge your watch every day and even worse when the display is so small to be renderred almost useless.

  10. Adeniji Kayode
    December 20, 2013

    @ prabhakar, I agree with you on that. I feel smart watch would gain more recognition in sport and health monitoring devices.

  11. Adeniji Kayode
    December 20, 2013

    @ prabhakar, I agree with you on that. I feel smart watch would gain more recognition in sport and health monitoring devices.

  12. Anand
    December 27, 2013

    Again, technology at its best. Smart watches are picking up pace and nowadays most smart watches use Bluetooth Low Energy. However, these smart watches are also used as fitness measurement gear. Cite: FitBit and Jawbone fitness products use smart watches or sensors incorporated in watches. 

  13. Anand
    December 27, 2013

    @FlyingScot, Smart watches are still a new concept, and they will become better in time. Most smart watches are power hungry, however with better battery designs coming up that ties better power management, smart watches will run for longer period of time. Some smart watches are being tested for working by absorbing body heat. Let's see how that turns out to be.

  14. Adeniji Kayode
    December 31, 2013

    @wasqasAltaf, For now ithink the plan is that smartwatches complement smartphones and not suppliment them

  15. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    December 31, 2013

    @Jacob, there have been some flops, but analysts are saying that this is the next big thing. I suspect what's missing is users being able to readily feel a considerable benefit.

  16. Daniel
    January 2, 2014

    “there have been some flops, but analysts are saying that this is the next big thing. I suspect what's missing is users being able to readily feel a considerable benefit.”

    Hailey, what was the flop? Fixing the flop itself is a big project.

  17. ITempire
    January 6, 2014

    Carrying two devices at a time won't work for long. One has to give way to another. I believe watches might get a lot smarter but in the end, smartphones will prevail. Having a four inch screen on your wrist doesn't sound too cool.

  18. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    January 7, 2014

    @Jacob, at least with early returns, Samsungs offering has some room for improvement: his Early Review For Samsung's Smart Watch Sounds Really Bad

  19. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    January 7, 2014

    @Waqas, i think there's a gender difference there. I carry multiple devcies but I also can carry a bag to carry my devices. I still wear a watch (not one of these techie things but standard analog)–my husband though hasn't work one in years. he alwas hs his phone. for me, digging around in my bag every time i nee the time is too inconvenient.

  20. ITempire
    January 12, 2014

    Hailey, yes you have a point. Because of the handbag / clutch factor, women are more likely to carry 2 devices. For men, trousers can't afford two devices 🙂 There are other things to keep in the pockets too.

  21. SunitaT
    February 22, 2014

    The term Smart phones and Smart watches is really a misnomer, at least at present. Digital assistant is exactly what these gadgets are right now. But seeing the clarity of vision of the tech companies, my hopes are high. Future seems exciting!

  22. SunitaT
    February 22, 2014

    @WaqasAltaf:Probably the smart watch and Google glass will get everything covered? Who'll need a 4 inch screen after that?

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